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Bar U Ranch, Part Eight:
Aboriginal Cowboys

Not far from the Bar U Ranch south of Calgary lies the reserve of the Stoney First Nation. As historian Simon Evans explains, many Stoney natives have worked at the Bar U Ranch since it was established in the late 1880s.

First Nations people contributed enormously to the success of the Bar U, particularly during the First World War. In a way, they filled a vital niche, because, at times like the roundup and branding, you needed a lot more hands than you've got on a permanent basis. And, in a way, the big ranches, like the Bar U, and some of the neighbouring family ranches, developed a very close relationship with Stoney Indians, who lived down in that neck of the woods.
The reserve along the Highwood River wasn't established until the 1940s, but this was habitual, the place where the Stoneys lived and hunted. And, as I say, they were very, very useful to the ranches as a pool of labour for peak periods. They also took contracts for fencing.

Like other ranches in the area, the Bar U developed close relationships with particular Stoney families.

Yes, you think about families, like the family of the Riders. Jonas Rider was a very famous cowboy down on the Bar U, Johnny Left-Hand was another. And the native people had a very close relationship with the Bar U, and used to camp just up-river from the ranch. And I remember Lee Alwood, who was foreman during the 1940s, telling me of one time when, for some reason or another, they were very short-handed for the branding. And he was able to, very early in the morning, ride over to the encampment where the native peoples were under their tents further up the river, and ask for some help, and rode back with 14 young men, who were available for the next few days to help with the branding. Really helped them out again and again.

The Bar U Ranch is now a national historic site, celebrating the significant role of ranching in the development of the Canadian West.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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